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Los Angeles County has asked a federal judge to force Kobe Bryant’s widow and her therapist to produce all of her therapy records since January 2010, escalating the ongoing legal battle between them after she accused county first responders of improperly sharing photos of her dead husband and daughter.
In documents filed in federal court late Friday, the county said this request is necessary to defend itself from her lawsuit against the county and to prove a point in its defense. It wants to show that Vanessa Bryant didn’t suffer emotional distress from any sharing of photos taken at the site of a helicopter crash last year that killed nine, including the NBA legend.
Instead, the county is trying to show that her emotional distress essentially came from the loss of her family members in the crash itself.
The move also comes after a U.S. magistrate judge this week denied the county’s request to force Vanessa Bryant to undergo a psychiatric exam for the same reason.
“Mrs. Bryant seeks millions of dollars in damages for severe emotional distress, anxiety and mental anguish allegedly caused by the public dissemination of photographs, which has not happened,” the county’s outside counsel stated in the filing Friday. “She also seeks damages for Defendants’ allegedly 'compounding the trauma' of losing her husband and daughter. Plaintiff claims she is depressed and has trouble sleeping. Her damages claims are premised entirely on these mental and emotional injuries. Plaintiff’s therapy records go directly to her emotional condition, which she has put squarely at issue in this lawsuit.”
Bryant’s attorney fired back, calling the county’s motion “abusive and harassing.”
“Mrs. Bryant should not be forced to choose between the privacy of her therapy records and holding County employees accountable for their unconstitutional conduct,” said the filing submitted by Mari Saigal of the firm Munger, Tolles & Olson.
Bryant has sued the county for invasion of privacy, accusing county sheriff’s and fire department employees of improperly sharing photos of human remains from the crash site. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages to punish the deputy defendants and “make an example of them to the community.”
The county’s position is that there was no public dissemination of the photos beyond isolated incidents at a bar and at a banquet. It said the “photographs did not focus on the remains of any of the victims but were general views of the crash scene that first responders and investigators typically use to assess the damage caused by tragic accidents such as this one,” according to the filing submitted Friday by the county’s attorney, Casey Sypek.
On Tuesday, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved a $2.5 million settlement with the families of two other victims from the crash – $1.25 million each for the Mauser and Altobelli families, who had filed lawsuits against the county based on similar allegations.
That came after U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick denied the county’s request to force Bryant to undergo a psychiatric exam, ruling that the county’s request came too late in the pretrial evidence discovery process as the case heads to trial in February.
Bryant’s attorney argued the request for the therapy records also comes too late in the process and that the records are protected by psychotherapist-patient privilege.
A judge is expected to rule on the matter in coming weeks.
In response to the county’s arguments, Bryant’s attorney said county personnel “shared photos of human remains with numerous individuals both in and out of the County’s employ who had no need to see them.” She said the list includes civilians at an award show gala, a patron and bartender at a bar in Norwalk, a firefighter for the City of Los Angeles who was not a county employee, the niece of a sheriff’s deputy and the video-game buddy of another deputy.
The county disputes that any sharing of photos in this case rises to the level of public dissemination required by law for a case like this. It stated in the court filing Friday there was no way for itself or the jury “to parse out the emotional harm caused by Plaintiff’s tragic loss of her loved ones, from the alleged harm caused by crash site photos that were never publicly disseminated, without an expert’s review and analysis of her mental health records.”
It is seeking a court order to obtain “all documents relating to or reflecting counseling, therapy, psychotherapy, psychiatry or any other mental health treatment provided to Vanessa Bryant from January 1, 2010, to the present, including but not limited to medical records, reports, patient notes, progress notes, psychotherapy notes, charts, treatment summaries, bills, statements, intake surveys, histories, findings, diagnoses, prognoses, sign-in sheets and correspondence.”
The county's outside counsel, Skip Miller, issued a statement to USA TODAY Sports about the county's quest to obtain Bryant's therapy records.
"The County continues to have nothing but the deepest sympathy for the enormous grief Ms. Bryant suffered as a result of the tragic helicopter accident," said Miller, partner of the Miller Barondess law firm. "Our motion for access to her medical records, however, is a standard request in lawsuits where a plaintiff demands millions of dollars for claims of emotional distress. I have an obligation to take this step to defend the County."
In a pretrial deposition last month, Miller asked Bryant what she was seeking in her lawsuit.
“I want accountability,” she replied, according to a transcript.
“And could you explain what you mean by that, please?” Miller asked.
“I don't want this to ever happen to anybody else,” she replied. “I don't think it's right.”
“Accountability. What do you mean by that?” Miller asked.
“I don't think it's right that I have to deal with this, that my kids have to deal with this when they get older and they become aware of what happened, that our friends have to deal with this,” she testified. “I don't think it's fair that I'm here today having to fight for accountability. Because no one should ever have to endure this type of pain and fear of their family members, the pictures getting released. This is not OK."
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kobe Bryant crash: LA County wants Vanessa Bryant's therapy records